Davis: This game will help set starters

Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

One thing Billy Davis hasn't lacked so far, in six months as the Eagles' defensive coordinator, is candor.

Davis will tell you he wants to play a two-gap 3-4 but isn't going to be able to exactly do that this season with the personnel he has on hand, which was mostly brought here to run a wide-nine 4-3.

He will tell you his unit isn't close to being good yet, and that it can't possibly develop swagger until it can master basic competence, from which swagger flows.

Davis talked to reporters again Wednesday, and again, it was well worth a listen. There hasn't been an Eagles coordinator in recent memory who grappled with questions in such detail. The contrast between Davis and his former boss with the Browns, current Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, couldn't be more striking. Shurmur learned his craft from Andy Reid, and at the podium he is basically a thin, fit Andy with dark curly hair. Shurmur is a very nice man who is determined to say nothing.

When Davis took the podium Wednesday, the questions flowed rapid-fire from a press corps that woke up and suddenly realized there was no more quarterback competition, and it would have to start actually covering training camp.

Davis defended Nate Allen, who seems destined to win the starting free safety job again mostly by default, with Kenny Phillips watching practice yet again Wednesday while suffering from a quad injury. Phillips, the former Giants first-round pick, has looked slow and hesitant in the rare occasions this training camp when he's actually been able to practice.

'Nate's a phemonenal athlete, good football player. I don't think anybody works harder at it than Nate," Davis said, as reporters silently reassessed that reputation for candor we alluded to at the beginning of this post. "The first game, struggled a little bit, the second game, played well. That's like all of them; the first game (a 31-22 loss to the Patriots) we all struggled, the second game we came back and played better."

"I think all of us, collectively, settled down in that second preseason game. Kind of went back to the fundamentals of playing our technique that we've been working on, relaxing in the system and not trying to make big plays, just letting the plays come to us. I think Nate falls into that same category."

Davis said he hopes Saturday's game at Jacksonville will give him a grasp of who his starters will be for the season opener, Sept. 9 at Washington.

'I think we're at the beginning stages of building this defense," Davis said. "The foundation, the fundamentals, the learning of the scheme, the way we communicate. Establishing that -- every defense wants to be that feared, intimidating defense, and I think the foundation is being laid -- but there is so much work to be done yet. The words don't get that done. Those are things that happen on Sundays, with the way we play and the way we hit. The way we tackle, the way we fly to the ball. We took a step forward last week, but there are so many steps left to take. We took a baby step forward last week, with a lot of work ahead."

Other highlights:

*It sounded like Davis sees Brandon Boykin as a slot corner more than an outside corner. Reporters have been wondering if Boykin's strong camp might push him ahead of, say, Bradley Fletcher, but Davis noted that teams are in nickel so much, the nickel corner is very important, and Boykin is the best fit there. "That is a huge job that gets a lot of attention and really is a unique skill set," Davis said.

*Davis said it's good that the Eagles have been able to crosstrain defensive linemen, allowing guys to play more than one position, for roster flexibility. (So if you're only here to play backup nose tackle, you might be in trouble, Antonio Dixon.)